Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Veronica Mofokeng and Nthabeleng Mona are part of an all-female drilling crew believed to be a first for South African mining. The duo encourages other women to step out of their comfort zones and take up space in the mining workforce, especially in jobs that were previously reserved for men.
When Veronica Mofokeng learnt she would be the first woman to be trained in operating a new age drill rig for the mining services provider Rosond, she felt slightly intimidated. But that soon made way for excitement, a feeling of accomplishment, empowerment and pride to be the first female operator in exploration for the company.
Veronica, an operator at Kumba’s Sishen mine, drills for iron ore to a depth of 400 metres using a new age drill rig. “I love my job,” says Veronica, who is part of an all-female drilling crew. Recruiting and training such a crew was an objective Rosond set itself for a R2 billion multi-year agreement with Anglo American-controlled Kumba Iron Ore.
An all-female drilling crew is unique and believed to be a first for South African mining, as jobs for drilling operators were historically reserved for men due to the physical strength and stamina required for lifting heavy drill rods during long shifts.
But new technology in next-generation exploration rigs has changed that.
The new drill rigs at Rosond are fully remote controlled, with operators working while housed within an air-conditioned control room. It is safer due to less manual intervention into the operation of the drill rig, which reduces the chance of operators being injured on the job.
Recruitment for women operators commenced in 2019 and this is when Veronica fell in love with drilling. She says after the initial feeling of intimidation, she learnt to calm herself down and get on with the job. She finds it interesting and is impressed with the new technology, which made it possible for her and her all-female crew to be part of women empowerment in South African mining.
According to Veronica, her training was facilitated by well-informed trainers. “Also, they were not harsh and just encouraged me to do my best.”
Nthabeleng Mona, also part of the crew, is a drill rig assistant for Rosond at Sishen. “My duties include general tasks on site, the marking of core samples and operating a rod handler, which is a new feature on the new machine. The previous machine did not have it. I find the work very interesting with the latest new technical machines on site.”
“I am proud to part of the all-female team. As the first female crew in South Africa’s drilling industry, we prove that women can also excel in what was traditionally considered a man’s world.”
Nthabeleng is of the opinion that women must challenge themselves and realise that the mining environment offers many possibilities and opportunities. “Thanks to new technology, women are now able to work in any industry – so I would encourage other women to join in.”
The job is not without its challenges: the biggest so far being men doubting women’s capabilities in the field of drilling. According to Nthabeleng, she constantly has to prove herself, but it has just made her more determined. “It has not put me down, it kind of motivates me to do better and improve myself.”
Figures by the Minerals Council South Africa show women now make up 12% of the mining workforce, compared to 6% in 2008. During the launch in August 2020 of the first National Day of Women in Mining, the Council said regulatory, social and physical barriers have played a part in the slow progress with the representation and advancement of women in mining.
The Minerals Council in a media release highlighted its focus on the implementation of initiatives designed to achieve stretch targets of women in the South African mining industry. Members aim to at least double the percentage of women in mining by 2025 and ultimately work towards 30% to 40% women representation across the industry, and 50% in management over the next decade.
The Council further stated that the opportunities to accelerate the work of the Women in Mining Leadership Forum includes the piloting of remote working models and technology – a push to implement technology with potential to benefit and attract women. Every year the industry will come together in August to take stock of progress.
Both Veronica and Nthabeleng encourage women to pursue mining as a career. The women describe it as an exciting career with new opportunities for women.
Veronica says government is serious about women empowerment everywhere, especially where men were preferred over women. “So now mining is more accessible and definitely a career for women to consider.”
Nthabeleng’s advice: “Women must step out of their comfort zones and believe in themselves. Do not second guess yourself.”